1977 was a huge year for the band and 2017 marks the fortieth anniversary of that ground-breaking year. It was the year that they went from a relatively unkown ‘Punk’ band from Guildford to a top ten charting, household name. In this chronological diary, we chart what the band were doing forty years ago in the corresponding week back in ’77. This first article details January to end of June 1977, a period in which the band released both their debut single and album and went from being a support act at the Roundhouse to packing out gigs there themselves. So, we now whisk you back to 1977, and the heyday of the Punk explosion, for the start of that legendary year…
Week commencing 23rd Jan 1977- Having signed their recording contract with UA, the band released the first fruits of their efforts this week. Their debut single ‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)‘ was unleashed on the British public and reached a disappointing 44 in the charts. It transpired that some of the sales were attributed to a different artist causing ‘Grip’ to stall prematurely on its ascent up the charts. Of their debut single, JJ recalls ‘We played the Penthouse Club in Scarborough (on 25/2/77) a few weeks after. Suddenly we realised that there was a huge difference from previous times because people were aware of the single. It got played a bit on the radio. The difference was massive once we actually had a record out’.
W/C 30th January 1977 – Whilst appearing as special guests of the Climax Blues Band at the Rainbow, the GLC (Greater London Council) cut the power during the band’s set as they were upset at the tshirt that Hugh was wearing, bearing the word ‘Fuck’ in the style of the Ford logo. As a result, the band made the headlines in the newspapers, courting controversy as only they knew how. JJ picks up the story: ‘The GLC had officials at the soundcheck who saw Hugh’s shirt and told us, if it was worn in the gig, they would pull the plug on us. We started the gig and Hugh had the shirt on backwards underneath his brown suede jacket. He took his jacket off a few songs later, turned around & they pulled the plug on us! It was exactly what we wanted! The Climax Blues Band didn’t get a look in and we took all the press. They must’ve been so pissed off as we stole the show. We were banned by the GLC in London for a while after that…’
W/C 6th February 1977- A sad anniversary this week, the suicide of the band’s legendary fan Dagenham Dave. Dave had met the band at the Golden Lion pub in Fulham in early 1976 and had become a close & loyal friend since that first meeting. He became their number one fan over the next year. Sadly, his life took a turn for the worse and he jumped off Tower Bridge. The band gave him a fitting eulogy in the track Dagenham Dave. JJ says of Dave: ‘He was such a large part of our very limited world at that time. Up ’til then, we had no friends. He was mixed race, smart as hell, self-educated, funny and a larger than life character. He also had lots of issues. When we heard what he had done, well, what can you say…’ RIP Dave (DD pics by Garry Coward-Williams)
W/C 13th February 1977- Forty years ago this week, the first issue of the band’s fanzine ‘Strangled’ was produced. Initially produced by band PR man Alan Edwards, it was taken over by young fanzine writer (& fan) Tony Moon. Over the next 20 years, the ethuzine was produced on a regular basis by the Stranglers Information Service (SIS) featuring news, interviews & articles written by band members. JJ elaborates: ‘The reason we started Strangled was that Alan had his ear to the zeitgeist and realised that everyone was doing their own fanzines. Alan didn’t want to be left out & started one for us. It wasn’t the first but was close to it. Tony Moon was already writing his own fanzine Sideburns and we knew him as he’d interviewed us at the Nashville Rooms I think. Tony was then brought it to run it full time and even came to the States with us in 1978. For some reason, we later fell out which I regret now as I think he was a good man. I was a bit uppity at the time! Strangled lasted until such time that printing costs became prohibitive and coincided with the digital, internet age. Strangled was a useful tool for band members to show that they weren’t one dimensional, had brains, thoughts & theories. There was a lot more to The Stranglers than people might have thought. It allowed us to write articles about subjects in songs, like Japanese suicide, UFOs and religion. Music was our primary vehicle but it seemed to fit that there was some literary connection as well. We developed it as far as it could go, becoming the best & most efficiently run fanzine, with subscribers all over the world. Nowadays, the website has taken over that role for us’.
21st February 1977- on this day in 1977, JJ celebrated his 25th birthday with a gig at a college in Canterbury. Happy birthday to JJB…
w/c 27th February 1977- the band recorded their first ‘Peel Session’ for the legendary radio 1 DJ, and champion of the new wave, John Peel. The session featured 4 tracks, only two of which were to feature on the band’s debut album to be released in mid April. JJ remembers the kudos that the session gave the band: ‘Obviously we were made up to be asked to do a session because, if John Peel gave his blessing to something, it suddenly had instant credibility. Since we had so many detractors at the time, whether other bands or the press, getting a Peel session gave us a legitimacy. It opened a lot of doors for someone like us, cementing what was happening commercially around us at the time’. Listen to the session on Spotify here
29th March 1977- On this day 40 years ago, in the midst of a string of UK dates including a gig at the infamous London punk club the Roxy, Dave Greenfield celebrated his 28th birthday. Happy birthday Dave!!!
w/c 10th April 1977- 40 years ago this week, ahead of the imminent arrival of their debut album Rattus Norvegicus, the band held a launch party to celebrate the release. In a PR masterstroke, the venue chosen was the Water Rat on London’s Kings Road, in the punk heartland of the capital and a stone’s throw away from the Pistols’ HQ, the Sex shop. In typically contrary mood, JJ chose not to attend: ‘I just couldn’t be arsed! I was always embarrassed about those sort of things, like launch parties. I was never comfortable with it. Hugh probably went as he’d go to the opening of a letter! It was held at the Water Rat to cock a snook at our rivals & to encroach on their territory. We were just after a fight & trying to be provocative…’
15th April 1977- this day in 1977 saw the release of the band’s debut album Rattus Norvegicus. The album’s 9 tracks included their first single Grip, crowd favourite Hanging Around, future single Peaches and the 4-part, rodent epic finale Down In The Sewer. Every song was a classic. The British public clearly thought so too as the album made its way rapidly up the charts and into the Top 10! JJ takes up the story: ‘I was living at Wilko’s (Johnson) flat at the time… and I remember Dai Davies rang me up and said ‘our album’s entered the charts, guess what position?’ I said ‘Wow! No idea, what position?’ He replied ’46!’ The following week he rang and said ‘Guess where it is now?’ I said ‘I suppose it’s gone down…’ He said ‘No! Number 4!!!’ It was incredible and it stayed in the charts for the whole year, mostly in the top ten. It was amazing for us because, at the time, we were going nowhere, being cold-shouldered by everyone & written off. Suddenly we went to that! It was a shift change and it fucks your head up. It turned our heads, certainly Hugh’s & mine, quite considerably for a couple of years until we calmed down & became human again…’ Listen to the album on Spotify here
w/c 17th April 1977- this week in 1977, to coincide with the release of Rattus Norvegicus, the BBC broadcast the band’s first ‘Live In Concert’ recording. Captured at London’s Paris Theatre on 7th April, its 6 tracks showcase the band’s debut album plus others which were unreleased at that point. Listen to the recording on Spotify here
w/c 1st May 1977- this week in 1977 saw the release of the band’s second single Peaches, with its reggae style & catchy bass riff. Following the premature stalling of Grip’s ascendance of the charts, Peaches rose weekly until it secured a top 10 placing, peaking at number 8. It became a huge hit and, to many, became the sound of the summer of ’77. The release was a double A side with Go Buddy Go. It was written following the band renting their PA to a reggae soundsystem in West London which left an impression on the band musically. JJ recalls: ‘What we heard that night blew our minds! I heard how bass heavy the mix was with lots of space between notes. Hugh heard the ‘toasting’ style, talking over songs not singing. The two of us got something out of that evening. We went back to Chiddingfold and all I wanted to do was recreate that feel. We made a feeble attempt at a reggae song but it never was because the snare beat should have been on the third beat. What we got was Peaches, which became a stable of our set early on because it resonated with people. When it was released, we had to censor the lyrics to get some radioplay although it was still seen as a bit edgy for broadcast’.
The single was originally to be released in a picture sleeve featuring a photo of the band and the song title written in a ‘blackmail’ style. The band objected to it and stopped the sleeve, meaning that copies of the original picture sleeve are now incredibly sought after. JJ picks up the story: ‘That was our call. The art department at United Artists had taken it upon themselves to try & put us into that same blackmail artwork style as the Sex Pistols. We didn’t want to be associated with them as I thought they were a comedy act. We wanted to have our own identity and not adopt theirs. We withdrew it but not before a few got out which are very valuable now…’
w/c 15th May 1977- 40 years ago this week, the band headed out on the mammoth ‘Rats On The Road’ tour. It was their first tour since the release of their debut album Rattus Norvegicus a month earlier and it marked a massive change in their fortunes, attracting both larger crowds but also unwanted attention from local councils. At over 30 dates, it was a huge tour throughout the rest of May and June and virtually all the dates were sold out. Sadly, the band also were viewed as the representatives of punk rock by the authorities & local councils, meaning some dates were cancelled in an effort to protect the public from these undesirables. JJ recalls the tour: ‘It was just a lot of gigs and was sold out everywhere. It was an overnight sensation which had taken us three years to get to! It was an amazing tour but with fewer punch ups than before actually, although there were still a few people who came along to challenge us’.
w/c 22nd May 1977- forty years ago this week the band made their debut appearance on the BBC’s legendary music programme Top Of The Pops. As Peaches made its way up the charts, the powers that be intervened in the song selection for broadcast. JJ elaborates: ‘Although there was a radio friendly version of Peaches, it was still found to be a bit edgy for TV broadcast. So, it was the double A side Go Buddy Go, a song which I wrote when I was 15 or 16, which we did on Top Of The Pops. The first time we were on (TOTP), we were really impressed as we had grown up with it. It was the be all and end all for some people, every band wanted to do it. A few bands smartly, at least in the short term, boycotted Top Of The Pops and they were seen to be more superior & not selling out. There was a bit of grandstanding on some people’s parts. It was a hugely influential programme and, as there were only a few channels then, the whole nation saw it so you became known overnight if you were on it’.
Ever the mischievous ones, the band joked about on air and swapped instruments to highlight the false ‘performance’ of the show, JJ confirms: ‘Just to prove that it was mimed and to have a laugh really. We knew we were pretending so that’s why we did it. We did some other things on TV programmes in the future to blow the whole miming thing’. Watch Go Buddy Go on TOTP here
w/c 26th June 1977- 40 years ago this week, the huge ‘Rats On The Road’ tour came to a finale in the capital. Due to phenomenal demand, the band actually played two gigs at the Roundhouse in Camden in ONE day, a matinee show at 4pm and an evening show at 8pm!
So, by the middle of 1977, the band had been firmly established in the higher reaches of both the UK single and album charts and had sold out huge British tours in increasingly larger venues. The second half of 1977 promised more of the same, with the follow up to Rattus Norvegicus already in the can and live forays further afield planned… The Stranglers had finally arrived!!!
Part two- July to end of December 1977 will follow…